At the age of nearing 53, I have many friends who talk about things they still want to do with their lives when they see me sporting around in my 1973 convertible Volkswagen Beetle, a car I unearthed out of a garage in Pennsylvania over ten years ago.
I want to get a Porsche, they might say; or I should get motorcycle some day. My friends, LuAnn Conroy from Apalachin, N.Y. and Leslie Watkins from Johnstown (formerly from Apalachin), did just that – they bought motorcycles in their middle age.
Rozebugg, for me, was a bit about finding myself, and discovering who I am at heart.
I had just left an over 20 year career with the Department of Defense; some of this serving as an active military paratrooper, the other as a computer system security employee and later a defense news writer.
I was able to travel to areas of conflict at that time, like Haiti during the invasion, and then Oklahoma City after the act of terrorism performed on U.S. soil by an American. I also traveled often to other areas, and eventually began writing defense news for larger magazines on the east and west coast.
My last deployment, as a civilian, was to be Bosnia, but I declined, as the time I would need in the country would keep me from my children for too long. The deployment had this lengthy requirement.
The World Trade Center and terrorist attacks of 9/11 was my last assignment – one that changed the way I see the world, forever. And today, after seeing the violence in the Middle East, I often pray to God that I didn’t pursue a Middle Eastern assignment, for obvious reasons.
I left that career shortly following 9/11, and began to immerse myself in my community, that I had traveled away from so often. I made a commitment to help my children while they were finding their own path, and eventually made that same vow to care for my mom.
Along the way, Rozebugg came in. I can’t recall exactly where I found her in Pennsylvania, but the friends who accompanied me told me not to get the car; “buy a new one,” they said. But Rozebugg had all of her original parts, needed a little work, and had hope – just as I did.
I brought her home in 2002, and Ray Jackson from Campville, a dear friend and owner of an antique car, helped me to repair some things that would enable me to get Rozebugg on the road.
I let my hair down and enjoyed the freedom of choosing where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be. When I was behind the wheel of the car, there was nothing on my mind at all – and that is where I wanted to be.
I earned some tips along the way though. For those familiar with beetles, and I had an older one temporarily while working as a defense employee in Europe, nothing is automatic – the brakes are hard, and the steering requires a little muscle. And of course, they have no heat.
My time with Rozebugg was limited mostly to the summer months, and September, as a favorite. I put her in many parades, to include the tractor parade at Rudin’s Farm on Gaskill Road in Owego, the parade where I had Santa with a cowboy hat riding in the back. I believe many will remember that.
Rozebugg’s job at that parade was to keep the tractors paced back from the horses that had trick riders.
Rozebugg had work done on her along the way as the older parts needed replacing now and then, and the goal was to keep her 100 percent original – as she remains today.
But then the flood came in 2011, and when the power went out I couldn’t open my garage to get Rozebugg out. I tried to enter the garage from another door, but it was already obstructed by an appliance that had floated as the floodwaters rose. I knew her fate was not good, but I thought, “don’t beetles float”?
Upon my return, I discovered she was flooded pretty bad – to include items found inside the car that didn’t begin there. It was a grim situation for me.
But the community and my mother came first, and Rozebugg second.
I located a “beetle guy” who lived in Endicott, N.Y. When I arrived he had a collection of beetles, to include the famous VW Camper Van. I knew I found the right guy.
He drained the water out of the engine, and got her running again.
Once again, I could enjoy Rozebugg. Later, Don Wheeland, from Hiawatha Motorcycles in Apalachin, went through the car for me again, replacing rusted parts underneath the car and tuning her up. He did a wonderful job, and the car was running better than ever. Moore’s Tire Sales also helped with tires, and oil changes for Rozebugg. They love it when I take her in.
So there was only one last thing to do. A bucket list of sorts, and that was to run the car down the track at Skyview Drags in Tioga Center, N.Y.
Now employed eight years with Times Shamrock Weekly Group as an Editor for several publications, and with features under my belt with The Daily & Sunday Review in Towanda, our daily paper, I gained inspiration to do this by our Publisher, Greg Zyla.
Zyla is the author of Test Drive and Collector Car Corner, and is the most knowledgeable person I have ever met regarding older, newer, fast, and the overall history of the auto industry.
I have known the owner of Skyview Drags and Shangri-La 2 for most of the years I have lived in the area, and track manager Amy Lynn Culver was quick to oblige in my request to run Rozebugg down the track on a Test and Tune night last Friday.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have seen Bob Motz burn the tower at Night Under Fire; I’ve seen the jet fueled cars go so fast down that track that they made your hair blow back when they passed; and then there is “Turbo Tim”, who I received word came over to watch. According to Zyla, “Turbo Tim” is the owner of a turbocharged, 375-horse Beetle that runs as fast as the Pro cars with a stick shift.
Rozebugg would never stand a chance on that track in the competitions, but running her was just part of a checklist, after-all.
With some difficulty figuring out when I could take off from the “tree” that cue’s the cars, my reaction time was pretty bad, but I did achieve 60 mph on the first run down the 1/8-mile track. No comparison to the next car that did about 130 mph – but good enough for Rozebugg.
I also had an understanding of what it felt like to just get out there and go as fast as you possibly can. It almost felt, at one point, as though I was sliding down the track, versus driving. Much different than driving down Route 17C.
Photos of my run, to include a video, garnered much conversation later in the day on social networking; some saying, “good for you”, others joking a bit about the G-Forces. It was all good – it was all for fun.
I decided on a second run, and this time track manager Amy Lynn Culver went with me to help me figure out the timing of the lights that cue me to go.
Still a poor reaction time, but even more fun than the last.
Isn’t that what it is all about, after all!
You can see Rozebugg’s run at www.youtube.com/watch?v=to048wlwLOM&feature=youtu.be. To learn more about Skyview Drags, visit www.skyviewdrags.com.